Guest post by my dear friend Kerolos Ibrahim, a.k.a “Key”
The interpretation of Jesus’ phrase, “Do not cling on to me…” has been so often misconstrued and deprived of it’s profound meaning that I thought a true explaining is not only warranted but quite overdue by now.
I’m not going to waste time refuting the absurd explanations that are floating around (such as the claim that Jesus would not allow a woman to touch His glorified body and so on), but rather I’ll simply share what the early Church fathers have discovered this passage to mean. Only then will one realize that nothing else could possibly make sense.
I’ll be as brief as possible (although you will see I clearly fail in my attempt at brevity). But first bear with me through a necessary theological introduction…
We believe in One God. We believe that this One God is Three Persons. Although each Person of the Trinity equally shares One and the same Essence, each Person is distinct in role. The Father is not The Son (we cannot say The Father became man), The Son is not The Spirit (we cannot say The Son descended like tongues of fire upon the Apostles), and The Spirit is neither The Father nor The Son. So, at the risk of a tragic oversimplification, we can affirm that The Father is The Source and Cause, The Son is The Incarnate Logos, and The Spirit is The Seal. Each Person of The One God has a distinct function. When one digs into this passage, one will find the depth of this theology revealed in fullness!
Back to the passage. Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb very early Sunday morning. She was the first one. There is no doubt she loved Jesus! When she found the tomb empty, she return to the disciples and shared the surprising news. She returned once again to the tomb with Peter and John, but this second time she lingered there while the disciples returned home. While she wept, she began to have a short dialogue with two angels. Shortly after, Christ calls to her. She does not recognize Him throughout the beginning of the dialogue, but as soon as He calls her by name, “she turned and said to Him, ‘Raboni!’ (which is translated to say, Teacher).”
Now, one must wonder why the blessed Apostle John, who is writing the entire gospel account in Greek, makes an effort to first state the original Hebrew word, ‘Raboni’ followed by its translation. He is already writing the entire dialogue in Greek, so to stop at one word then mention its translation has to be for a reason. He returns to mention the original word ‘Raboni,’ followed by its translation, not to waste time with extra writing, but to emphasize Mary’s response. To her, Jesus was “Raboni,” He was “Teacher” (simply that).
Jesus’s response, “do not cling on to Me,” is therefore in response to her understanding of Him. Don’t forget that the other Mary’s ‘held Him by the feet and worshiped Him’ (Matt 28:9). He permitted them to cling to Him because they understood Him as God and as One to be worshiped. But Mary Magdalene, who without a doubt did love Jesus, only understood Him as “Teacher,” nothing more. And so, His response “do not cling to Me,” is to say, “Do not hold on to this idea of Me as ‘Teacher’ only. Do not think of me as only that. Yes, I am your Teacher, but I am so much more. I am your God and Savior.”
What is more interesting is the latter part of Christ’s response, “…for I have not yet ascended to My Father” Here, one must ask, “what does Christ ascending to His Father have anything to do with this situation?” It’s almost as if He is telling her that the very reason she cannot cling to Him is because He has not yet ascended to His Father. It’s as though He is saying “Wait until I ascend to My Father, then I’ll let you cling to Me. But until then, you cannot cling to Me.” So, what does His ascension have to do with this situation?
Although, it seems out of context, here is where the puzzle pieces start to fall into place and we enter into the depth of practical Theology. I spoke earlier of the distinctness of each Person of the Trinity. The Father is the Source or Cause. The Son is Begotten from The Father, and The Spirit proceeds from The Father. If we meditate on Christ’s response “do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father,” we will recall the words of Christ “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (Jn 16:7). And “I shall send to you [The Helper] from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father” (Jn 15:26). According to Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Augustine, that’s why Christ must ascend first—in order to deliver The Spirit to us. His ascension is for our reception of the Holy Spirit. This is a profound mystery! See the cooperation of the Whole Trinity in every Divine Act. See how The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, are inseparable. This is The Trinity revealed! “The Father never works without His two hands—The Son and The Spirit (Saints Irenaeus and Gregory the Theologian). The Trinity is always mystically working together in perfect harmony.
And why is it necessary for Christ to deliver The Spirit to her? Because The Spirit reveals Christ! “The Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (Jn 15:26). Unless we have The Spirit we can not know who Christ is. “No one can say Christ is Lord, except by The Spirit” (1 Cor: 12:3). It is The Spirit who reveals the Truth – Christ Himself. “When He, The Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth… He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16: 13-14).
For this reason Christ tells Mary “…for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” In other words, “I have not yet sent you The Spirit, who will reveal to you who I really am.” He is telling her, not to hold on to Him with this misconception, and that once He ascends, He will take The Spirit, who proceeds from The Father, and deliver Him to her, that she may understand who He really is. Only then can she hold on to Him!
So now we must ask, who is Christ to you? How have you held on to Him? Is He merely a teacher? A role model? Or is He your personal God and Savior?